Whispers

They were silent for about an hour. Listening to orders shouted as the sun came up. Both sides were doing their ‘Stand To.’ A few machine gun bursts were fired off, and a few shells were dropped. But, even with that, it was about as quiet as Evans had ever heard on the front. It was actually a pretty nice day. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky. Weather was plenty warm.

Captain Ricci eventually broke their silence by whispering, “So what do we do Sergeant?

“Wait Ma’am. Isn’t nothing else we can do.”

The two waited a while more before Evans whispered, “So what was the actual mission Ma’am?”

“Well part of it is true. I was supposed to be getting pictures of the new artillery shells in action. But I was also supposed to try and pick some intelligence off their officers. Luckily, the first man you killed was an officer, and his papers were relatively intact. That’s why I had you flip him over.”

“What do they say?”

“I don’t know. That’s not my job. I checked for the official seal and date and then hid it.”

“Can we read it?”

“No, it’s above even my clearance.”

“Really? It’s probably just a daily update or something.”

“All updates have to go directly to my superiors, who pass it up the chain. It’s read once it gets to the top… How do you know if I can even read it?”

“Because that would have been the easiest way to deny it. You could have just said-”

There was a loud fwoosh noise. Shit. Evans pulled out his pocket periscope, dirtied up one mirror and poked it over the top and scanned the horizon. A jet of flame burst out from the Vledscan Trench and swept over a few shell holes.

He whispered to Ricci, his voice as quiet as possible, “Flamethrower. They’re trying to flush us out, or burn us alive.”

“Fuck. Pattern?”

After three more bursts, he got a pattern, “Ten second burst. Ten second pause. Sweeps about twenty meters with each burst. They’ll reach us in about two minutes if the pattern doesn’t change.”

“Alright. We have to do this fast. Take off your webbing, helmet, and scarf,” Evans followed her orders. Captain Ricci pulled the letter out of her boot, ripped it open, read it a few times and stuffed it back. She dropped her bandolier, haversack, helmet, and scarf, “How close is it now?”

“One Burst, two at most,” Panic started to rise in Evans’s voice. He didn’t want to die. And not of this. He had been lucky to avoid flamethrowers in comb-

Captain Ricci whispered, “Deep Breath” and pulled him underwater.

Counter Barrage

They must have been running the wrong way, because Evans ran way more than fifty meters and hadn’t gotten to the sap. And then the Vledscan artillery opened up on No-Man’s Land. Instinct kicked in. Protect the Officer. Evans pulled Captain Ricci down into a shell hole and tried to cover her body as much as possible. The explosions started to blend together into a constant roar. The only other noise he could hear was the occasional shriek of shrapnel flying overhead.

Evans wanted to run. Almost every fiber of his being was telling him to get up and run as fast as he could to the lines. But luckily, in the back of his mind, he knew that it would mean death.

Captain Ricci didn’t have that knowledge. Fear overcame her. Death falling from the sky and the claustrophobia from Evans attempting to cover her was too much. She rolled and elbowed Evans to get him off her. She dragged herself to her feet and started to run. She had to get–

Something tugged at her foot and she fell face first into the mud.

It was no longer a question of covering Captain Ricci. Evans was just trying to keep her in cover. He was gripping her ankle tightly with both hands and trying to get deeper into the shell hole.

He slipped lower and lower until he was half submerged in the water that flooded the shellhole. For some reason all Evans could think of was the time he tried to grow mold in a bucket in his room. It was probably the dumbest idea he had ever had. His dad yelled at him for the better part of an hour. His sister still jokes about it in her letters. Evans started to laugh. If Dad could see him now. Waist deep in water that’s been standing for God know’s how long, wearing clothes that he’s been in for over a week.

With a thud, a shell landed next to Evans. A dud. Evans laughed harder. Maybe he was immortal. Captain Ricci had stopped struggling and calmed down. He pulled her down so she could help him toss the shell out of the hole. Carefully. Anna would be very angry if he died.

The barrage kept going for a while. Longer than usual. By the time it had lessened enough for the two of them to leave the shell hole without it being certain death, a new day was dawning. Which meant the two would have to stay in this hole until night came. No talking louder than a whisper, no food, no clean water, and no sleep.

Sliding over, Captain Ricci whispered into his ear, “Thanks for… Not letting me die.”

Whispering back, Evans said, “Hey, we ain’t back yet. We’ll probably die before get back.”

“But at least my death won’t be embarrassing Sergeant.”

Photography

As Evans got closer to the hellish red glow, he heard screaming. He saw a sudden movement from the trench. Without thinking, Evans brought the Auto Gun to his shoulder and fired a short burst. It was easy to see the man tumble. His body was covered with… Fire, sticking to him. And he collapsed smoldering. Holy Fucking Hell.

Captain Ricci dashed forward and took a long exposure of the body. She signaled him over and gestured for him to roll the body over. Evans nodded, grabbed a piece of lumber and rolled the body over. He quickly looked away as Captain Ricci took another picture. She waved Evans forward.

Evans slid into the trench. The combination of being out of open ground, and a lightening in the barrage led to Evans being able to hear things beside the endless roar. Another burning man started to stumble towards him. He could barely make out the words the man was speaking. It wasn’t Vledscan. “Killlll Meee”

He unbuckled his holster and drew the pistol. Placing it carefully against the man’s forehead, he saw a pained smile and a nod. Evans pulled the trigger. The man crumpled to the ground. Captain Ricci slid in behind him. She took a picture down the trench line, turned around, and whispered in his ear, “Dugout forward. Try and clear it without grenades.

“Ma’am.” Evans dashed forward to the dugout stairs. Captain Ricci followed halfway down the stairs, then took a position covering the entrance.

Evans turned the corner at the bottom and…

Fuck

Everything was fire. He started to sweat from the intense heat. Evans saw two charred bodies, embraced in their last moments. Evans looked around the room. Nothing could have survived that. Evans ran up the stairs, gave the Captain a thumbs up and vomited. He took up the guard position while Captain Ricci took her pictures. No one came. Why would anyone come.

Captain Ricci ran back up and whispered, “Lucky. Shell must have tunneled through the ground and burst right in their dugout. We can make our way back to the sap now.”

“Lucky?” Evans made his way up. He looked left and right. Still clear. The artillery had stopped. Likely moments before the Vledscan soldiers came rushing to retake the trench. Captain Ricci waved him over the top.

Rolling over, Evans flattened himself and watched for movement. Captain Ricci rolled over next to him. She whispered, “Let’s run like Hell.”

The two got up and sprinted to the sap.